‘Nall Marks’: The history of Nall Avenue told on new trail sign

Photo courtesy Overland Park Historical Society.
Photo courtesy Overland Park Historical Society.

On Saturday, local historian Henry Fortunato will unveil the newest of the interpretive signs he’s developed for the Indian Creek Trail, an event that will feature a walk along the trail on National Trails Day.

As a sneak peak ahead of the unveiling, Fortunato has given us permission to publish the contents of the new signs here on the site. Below is the information for the Nall sign, which will be located on the trail a few blocks north of I-435. Tomorrow we’ll publish the information from the Lamar sign:

Nall Marks

John Nall, whose name graces Nall Avenue, fathered a family that was huge even by 19th century standards.

His first wife, Nancy J. Sells, gave birth to nine children. Two years after her death in 1870, Nall remarried. His second wife, Susan Emma Mooney, delivered six more. Nall’s predilection for progeny may have been a family tradition. He himself was one of ten children.

Doing things in a big way on or near Nall Avenue has been something of a hallmark of the thoroughfare, especially since the mid-20th century. Indeed, if there were a Nall Hall of Fame, it would include numerous notable outsized honorees of local, regional, and even national significance.

Nall Hills ranks as one of the largest residential subdivisions ever built in Overland Park. Bounded for the most part by Nall on the east and Glenwood on the west and located between 95th Street and Indian Creek, it was developed from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s.

The home base of big-time college sports was an office building with a Nall Avenue address when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) maintained its headquarters there from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s.

One of the biggest corporate campus construction projects in the country took place on some 200 acres fronting the west side Nall between 115th and 119th streets at the turn of the millennium. During this time, Sprint – a Kansas-founded telecommunications company – moved its headquarters there. Across the way on the east side of Nall is Town Center Plaza, Leawood’s largest retail shopping district.

Other Nall neighbors in this vicinity comprise one of the largest concentrations of Jewish-affiliated entities in Johnson County. In 1986, a study commissioned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City found the demographic center of the local Jewish community – whose original members had arrived in the region well before the Civil War – had shifted westward across the state line into Johnson County. This migration took place despite the restrictive covenants that some developers had employed to prevent Jewish buyers from acquiring homes here.

But it was not only individual Jewish families who were flocking to Johnson County – many Jewish and Jewish-affiliated organizations also relocated to the suburbs, especially to properties on or near Nall Avenue. These include the Jewish Community Center, Menorah Medical Center, and the Village Shalom retirement community, which serve all community residents regardless of their faith. The present-day home of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, the oldest Jewish religious community in metropolitan Kansas City is now located on Nall. Congregation Beth Torah, Chabad House Center, and The Shul – Chabad of Leawood are also near Nall.

John Nall. Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.
John Nall. Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.

Near Nall Avenue and 137th Street is the entrance to the massive complex of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. Founded by Rev. Adam Hamilton in 1990, it became the largest United Methodist congregation in the denomination by the early 21st century. The sanctuary features what may be the largest stained glass installation in the country measuring 37 feet tall and 93 feet across.

If there were a Nall Hall of Fame, it would include numerous notable outsized honorees of local, regional, and even national significance.

Nall’s Tales

Thomas Nall. Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.
Thomas Nall. Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.

John Nall (to the right) described himself as “a Kansas pioneer and prominent Johnson County farmer” in his self-penned obituary written a few days before his death in 1917 at age 85. Born in North Carolina in 1832, Nall moved west with his parents and several siblings. In the 1850s, the family joined an oxen-drawn covered wagon train bound for Missouri, where he met and married his first wife, Nancy J. Sells. Nall’s descendants claimed he also tried his luck prospecting for gold in California and later lived for a while in Osawatomie, Ks.

After 1859, Nall and his brother Thomas (below John at right) acquired about 200 acres in present-day Johnson County, some of it from Shawnee Indians then residing in the area. During the Civil War, Nall served in a unit of the Kansas state militia. Although it appears he never engaged in combat, Nall always claimed to have witnessed that portion of the October 1864 Battle of Westport which took place in what is now Kansas City’s Loose Park, several miles to the northeast of his Johnson County house. Nall wrote that he “saw the charges and counter charges, and could not only hear the firing but could hear the yells of the soldiers.”

The House and Farm that Nall Built

Photo courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections.
Photo courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections.
Photo courtesy Kansas City Public Library.
Photo courtesy Kansas City Public Library.

In 1882, John Nall demonstrated his talent and proficiency as a carpenter and a craftsman. He constructed a two-story, 11-room home near the southeast corner of what is now 67th Street and Nall Avenue (pictured above). The house still stands to this day, though it has undergone extensive renovation and remodeling. Nall lived there with his second wife, Susan Emma Mooney. Nall’s farm was a diversified agricultural enterprise. He raised livestock – cattle, mules, horses, and hogs – and kept honeybees. Field crops included wheat and alfalfa. But contemporary sources suggest he was best known as a fruit grower. Nall’s Elberta peaches, sold at the City Market in downtown Kansas City, Mo., were considered “the finest in the vicinity.” By the time of his death, John Nall had outlived both of his wives and more than half of his children. The Nall house would stay in the family through the 1940s. The Patterson family purchased the property in 1959. The home burned in 1993, causing almost $1 million in damages (see right), but the Pattersons rebuilt. In 1997, the Kansas Preservation Alliance saluted them for saving the landmark.

Nalls in a Row

Photo courtesy Highland Cemetery Association.
Photo courtesy Highland Cemetery Association.

John Nall is one of about 30 Nall family members buried in the small, one-acre Highland Cemetery that hides in plain sight at the abrupt end of 65th Street near Hodges Drive in Prairie Village. John Nall donated a half-acre for the cemetery, while a Native American named John A. White provided the remainder. At least 18 of the headstones hint at the heartbreak that must have been at least part of John Nall’s lot in life – they bear the names of his wives, as well as several children, siblings, and in-laws who predeceased him.

Nall Players

Photo courtesy Monica Davis.
Photo courtesy Monica Davis.

From 1952-99, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) operated out of headquarters located in the Kansas City area. For about 15 of those years (1973-89), the organization occupied an office building at 6299 Nall Avenue, where NCAA executives administered the sanctioned competitions that – especially in football and men’s basketball – attracted ever higher numbers of television viewers and advertisers. During these years, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament became an annual springtime ritual across the country.
In 1989, the NCAA headquarters moved to College Boulevard in Overland Park. Ten years later, the organization relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana.

Sun’s Spot

Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.
Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.

Nall Avenue can claim a connection with the first periodical ever published in Kansas – which also ranks as the first publication ever printed anywhere in a Native American language. It was called the Siwinowe Kesibwi, otherwise known as the Shawnee Sun. The paper was a project of the Shawnee Baptist Mission, which was established by Rev. Isaac McCoy and his son-in-law Johnston Lykins in the early 1830s near what is now the northern end of Nall Avenue at present-day 49th Street. Unlike the larger and better known Shawnee Methodist Mission, the Shawnee Baptist Mission offered Native Americans the option of being instructed in their own language. Lykins and Jotham Meeker, another Baptist missionary who doubled as a skilled printer, developed an orthographic system for representing the sounds of the Shawnee language with letters from the English alphabet. The result was the Siwinowe Kesibwi, published regularly but erratically from 1835-44, as well as booklets and other materials.

“What you’ll find when you drive out to 103rd and Nall”

Photos courtesy Overland Park Historical Society.
Photos courtesy Overland Park Historical Society.

By the end of one Sunday in August 1956, an estimated 7,000 paper cups of ice water had been distributed to guests who had arrived at a former cattle ranch located on Nall Avenue a few blocks north of this spot. The visitors had come to tour the 12 different model homes that would make up Nall Hills, a $30 million project promoted at the time as Johnson County’s “largest single residential development.” Originally planned on 650 acres between Nall and Metcalf avenues and from 95th Street south to Indian Creek, the subdivision initially was developed by Winn-Rau Corp., and featured houses with three bedrooms as well as double garages for “two-car” families. By 1959 about 250 homes had been built; by 1962, about 650. That year, a 500-lot addition featuring homes by numerous builders was announced. Today, Nall Hills comprises more than 1,200 single family homes.

Nall_Homes_2

Sales_Office

Kitchen_Doc

Corporate Campus

Photo courtesy Overland Park Historical Society.
Photo courtesy Overland Park Historical Society.

In 1997, property fronting on the west side of Nall Avenue between 115th and 119th streets and stretching back some 200 acres became the scene of what was then considered the largest building project in Kansas City-area history. It was the construction of a $700 million office complex that would become the new world headquarters for Sprint, a leading telecommunications company that traced its corporate lineage to Abilene, Kansas, where C. L. Brown had established a rural telephone exchange in 1899. The 17-building facility – which had received a property tax abatement package from the City of Overland Park – opened in 2002. The completed facilities brought together Sprint employees who, at one point, had been housed at more than 50 different buildings in six separate municipalities across the Kansas City area.